Democratic acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has won the West Virginia special governor's election. With 96 percent of the vote counted, the Associated Press has called the race for Tomblin, who leads Republican businessman Bill Maloney, 50 percent to 47 percent.
"We all came together to tell outside groups that no one is going to tell us what to do in West Virginia. We may be open for business, but West Virginia is not for sale!" Tomblin said in his victory speech Tuesday night.
Tomblin took over as acting governor in 2010, following Democrat Joe Manchin's election to the Senate. He will serve out the remaining year of Manchin's term and will be up for reelection in November of 2012.
The Democrat began the race as the favorite and held off a late push from Maloney and national Republicans, who sought to tie the him to President Obama, a very unpopular figure in the state. The race was relatively sleepy over the summer, with neither candidate launching overt attacks against the other. But as the fall approached, the pace picked up, and the self-funding Maloney began to run more ads, raising his name identification and closing the gap against the longtime state legislator.
During the final week of the race, national Republicans bet big on tying Tomblin to Obama, a tactic used in the 2010 Senate race against Manchin. The difference this time, Republicans said, is that the attack was held until the end of the race, so as not to give Tomblin time to respond.
But Tomblin effectively kept the president at arm's length and would not even say whether he'd vote for Obama in 2012 when asked by Hotline On Call over the weekend. He used a model very similar to the campaign strategy Manchin adopted in 2010, racking up endorsements from traditionally GOP-friendly groups like the NRA and state Chamber of Commerce. His closing argument was an ad featuring Manchin himself.
"I congratulate my friend Earl Ray Tomblin for this well-deserved victory tonight, and I truly look forward to continuing to work with him on our shared priorities for our state," Manchin said in a statement Tuesday night.
National Democrats acknowledged they're running in a tough environment, but argued Tomblin was able to overcome it with a relentless focus on job creation and boosting the local economy.
"Democratic governors have shown an ability to thrive in the toughest of times because we are singularly focused on the things that we know will make our children winners and not losers in this modern economy: creating jobs and opportunity now," said Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O'Malley, governor of Maryland.
The Republican Governors Association spent heavily on their ad tying Tomblin to Obama in the very expensive D.C. media market, which extends across to the Eastern Panhandle, hoping to boost Republican turnout. Democrats spent their time focusing on boosting turnout in the southern part of the state.
Maloney won much of the Eastern Panhandle in convincing fashion. But it was not enough to overcome the advantage Tomblin enjoyed in other key areas. In Logan County, a heavily Democratic area, GOTV efforts were a boon for Tomblin, as turnout during early voting nearly matched 2010 levels. In Kanawha County, the state's largest, Tomblin beat Maloney by one point,
Maloney praised supporters in his concession remarks, underscoring the underdog role he has embraced throughout the race.
"When I got into this race, our campaign team could have fit into a phone booth. We had zero name recognition, zero traction and zero chance -- according to the experts. But we had faith, we had drive, and most importantly, we had your support," Maloney said.
The businessman, who put a substantial sum of his own money into the race, hasn't ruled out running again in 2012. With Obama on the ballot in 2012, and his personal wealth taken into consideration, it's a possibility at least worth keeping an eye on as the cycle progresses.
"While our campaign ends today, the fight to move West Virginia forward will continue. I urge you to remain committed to a better West Virginia. You have the power to make sure the politicians work in your best interest, not theirs," he said.